Here’s your To-Do List for Spending Two Days in the Smoky Mountains
There are so many attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains that it can be challenging to plan the perfect itinerary in a limited amount of time. However, it is possible to cover a lot of ground in a few days if you plan ahead.
So, are you ready to embark on a trip of a lifetime? The Smoky Mountain Park offers such easy accessibility that you can explore most of the highlights in two or even one day – depending on your preferences.
Below is an itinerary based on two full days spent inside the park from the Tennessee side. You can also easily adjust this itinerary based on how much or little time you have. The guide below has covered everything you need to plan the perfect Great Smoky Mountains 2-day itinerary.
Day 1 of the Great Smoky Mountains
As a first-time visitor to the park, you will be captivated by the views of the Smokies. You can take your lunch with you and enjoy a meal on the go, or you can relax and enjoy a drink at one of the nearby restaurants before returning to the park. Start as early as possible to maximize your time and avoid crowds.
A visit to Sugarlands Visitor’s Center
The hours of operation may vary based on the season but are generally 9 AM to 5 PM.
While there are plenty of exciting things to do in the Smoky Mountains, you should always visit the National Park first. It can be helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the parking situation, the weather, the trail conditions, or anything else you may require before leaving. As the Visitor Center is the best place to get maps and information.
Whether coming from Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, the first stop you want to make is the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center. You will find a small gift shop in the Visitors Centers where you can stock up on your favorite stickers and stamps. It will be the perfect way to document your travels to the National Parks.
Take the Newfound Gap Road
It will take approximately 2 hours to drive.
Following your visit to the Visitor’s Center, head back to US 441 South, referred to as Newfound Gap Road. Located in the heart of The Great Smoky National Park, this highway links Tennessee with Cherokee, North Carolina.
The 33-mile scenic route offers breathtaking vistas at every turn. The road ascends nearly 3,000 feet to reach Newfound Gap (5,046′), at the bottom of the Smokys. Don’t forget to wear an overcoat as the high elevation passes can be 10 degrees cooler than the nearby towns.
Newfound Gap Road’s must-see stops
- Campbell Overlook is located approximately two miles south of Sugarlands Visitor Center; you can enjoy scenic views of the Smokys here.
- Chimneys Picnic Area is five miles south of Sugarlands and is a great place to break up your day and recharge.
- Right after the Picnic Area, this turnoff offers views of the above 2,000-foot-high “Chimney Tops” formations
- Morton Overlook is a stunning viewpoint, mostly cherished for its spectacular sunsets
- Newfound Gap is located between Tennessee and North Carolina and is 5,046 feet above sea level. As the hikers walk down Clingman’s Dome, they pass by this platform.
It is here that Clingmans Dome Road turns off. After hiking to Clingmans Dome and Andrews Bald to watch the sunset, retrace your steps this way. You may want to return or head to Clingman’s Dome’s parking lot at Newfound Gap.
A hike up Andrew’s Bald
It is entirely optional and will take up to 2 hours.
After visiting the Newfound Gap Overlook earlier in the day, retrace your steps north on Newfound Gap Road towards the Clingmans Dome Parkway.
The parking lot is located at the end of the road. The summer months can be a bit of a nightmare regarding parking here. However, you’ll find plenty of parking after 4 pm, when many visitors leave the park and the less crowded area.
Two-hour hike to Andrew’s Bald
It’s the perfect backdrop for sunset on Clingmans Dome from Andrews Bald. In the Smokys, this somewhat strenuous hike will take you to one of the many “balds” characterized by their lack of trees and the presence of grass, plants, and azalea shrubs.
Leaving the Clingmans Dome parking lot, follow the paved road to Clingmans Dome. The Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald is on your left shortly after the park’s large interpretive signs.
In the first mile, follow the Forney Ridge Trail that descends into a forest. Uphill, the trail leads to Andrews Bald, which offers breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding peaks. All trail junctions should be marked with signs for Andrews Bald.
After you’ve taken in the view from the Bald, make your way back following the signs to Clingmans Dome and head to the parking.
Take the trail that leads to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
To reach the Observation Tower, follow the paved path from the Clingmans Dome parking lot. Most of the time, the trail is crowded and steep. You can rest on the many benches along the course if you aren’t used to hiking at higher elevations.
It intersects the Appalachian Trail at 0.5 miles from the bottom of the Observation Tower. At the top of the Tower, you can access a 360-degree observation deck via a 375-foot circular ramp.
Spend an hour admiring Clingmans Dome’s sunset
The highest point of the Smoky Mountains is Clingmans Dome, which stands at 6,643 feet. It is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the observation tower. From Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower, which stands 45 feet tall, you can view the surrounding mountains from all directions.
The Smoky Mountains itinerary wouldn’t be complete without Clingman’s Dome. A sunset view from the Observation Tower is spectacular when the skies are clear!
In the summer, the area is often cloudy and stormy. So, before hiking, check the weather conditions. However, if you arrive early, be prepared for large crowds at the Observation Tower.
Day 2 of the Great Smoky Mountains
Explore more of the Great Smoky Mountains’ scenic drives and historic structures on Day 2 of your itinerary.
Cades Cove is home to a wide range of wildlife in a broad valley surrounded by the Smoky Mountains. This 11-mile loop road offers scenic views of Cades Cove’s many historical sites and is one of the park’s most popular attractions.
You can take a short hike to Laurel Falls after exploring Loop Road in the Smokies.
If you are looking for an itinerary focused more on hiking, skip Cades Cove, and hike the Alum Cave Trail up to Mt. LeConte.
Scenic Drive along Cades Cove Loop Road
The Loop road is an 11-mile pleasant drive in the broad Cades Cove valley. In the early 1800s, European settlers settled the area, leaving behind many historic buildings. It takes less than an hour to drive the Loop Road, but make sure you stop off and look at the historical buildings on foot.
May 5 through September 1, Wednesdays are vehicle-free days on Cades Cove Loop Road. In these times, hikers and cyclists are welcome to use the loop.
The Laurel Falls
Following your tour of historic buildings, leave Cades Cove on Laurel Creek Road, and return to Sugarlands Visitor Center. Fighting Creek Gap Road intersects with Laurel Creek Road in about 40 minutes.
You can park at Laurel Falls just after Elkmont Road. A Great Smoky Mountains itinerary isn’t complete without a hike up the mountain. The parking lot can become crowded on weekends, but there are additional parking areas along Fighting Creek Road. You can park in the nearby parking lot and walk towards your destination.
Mountain laurel blooms here in Spring, which gives its name to the 80-foot high Laurel Falls. Most of the trail is paved and has clear signs. However, the old pavement cracks and crumbles in some places, making strollers and wheelchairs unsuitable.
The Laurel Falls Trail
Through the verdant forest, the trail ascends gently from the trailhead to Laurel Falls. There have been reports of black bear sightings on the trail, especially early in the morning, so it is recommended not to bring children along.
Located in the lower part of the Falls, there is a wooden bridge that divides the upper and lower sections. Be cautious around steep drop-offs and slippery rocks. You must stay hydrated during the summer, especially on humid days. Additionally, you will need a pair of sturdy sneakers or hiking boots for this hike.
If you’re looking to pack a lot of adventure into a short time, this Smoky Mountains itinerary is the one for you. Despite its crowds, a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains won’t disappoint lovers of the great outdoors and Southeast history.